Thomas’ arrival means Partey time is over for Granit Xhaka

Thomas Partey: Arsenal's £45m midfielder is a 'physical marvel' who 'does everything well' | Football News | Sky Sports

It’s party time at the Emirates – and not the kind that’s been getting the England team into trouble this week. Arsenal finally managed socially distance themselves from the Atletico board they’d spent the summer negotiating with, and secure the signing of Thomas Partey.

The heist-like nature of the deal could easily have been cut from one of the Oceans movies. While the merits of that approach definitely require analysis at some point, they are irrelevant for now. The important thing is that Arteta has improved his Eleven.

But how exactly will it line up?


Deadline day departures have seen Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira move on from the club while Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal career is seemingly as extinct as the dinosaur he’s trying to save. This means we head into the new season with almost a completely new-look midfield. Let’s take a glance at what that might be like.

End of the back 3? –

I know it might seem counterintuitive to start analysis of the midfield by looking at the defence but that’s what I’m going to do here.

Since the disastrous return from project restart Mikel Arteta has fielded his Arsenal side in a 3-4-3 formation. This is a switch up from how he originally started with a Wenger-esque 4-2-3-1.

The decision was an example of our coach’s refreshing pragmatism. Realising the defensive limitations of his squad he moved quickly to address them. David Luiz was restored to the middle role that he had excelled in under Antonio Conte, Kieran Tierney thrived in the hybrid left-back/left centre-back position and Rob Holding began channeling his inner Brazilian on the right side of the defence.


Two trophies later, and you have to say it worked. But if you asked Mikel Arteta how he envisaged his teams playing on their way to success, he’d be the first tell you that this isn’t it.

When asked what his coaching philosophy would be in 2014 the Spaniard said: “I want the football to be expressive, entertaining. I cannot have a concept of football where everything is based on the opposition.”

“We have to dictate the game, we have to be the ones taking the initiative, and we have to entertain the people coming to watch us.”

The wins against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City were certainly entertaining, but if you were to ask if we controlled those games, even the most die-hard of Gooners would answer with a resounding “no.”

The truth is it cannot be done with a back three. It is a fundamentally reactive formation. If the football of Arteta’s mentor Pep Guardiola is anything to go by, then the future of this time lies in a 4-3-3 formation.

Who is Thomas?


One of the first things that needs to be established about Thomas Partey is that he is not the Gilberto Silva surrogate social media seems to think he is.

Yes, he has excelled in a defensive midfield role at Atletico Madrid. I mean is there really any other kind in a Diego Simeone team? In last season’s Champions League, he averaged 3.6 tackles per game and 1.5 interceptions. But he’s so much more than just a destroyer.

As a 23-year-old Thomas spent a season on loan at Almeira where he was largely used as a number 10 or a winger. It was actually a surprise to the Atleti coaching staff when he came back and was adept in the deeper lying position.

This is borne out in his stats from last season’s Champions league yet again. He averaged 1.6 key passes and just under two dribbles per 90, while also managing more than 60 passes per game.

His career progression is actually somewhat reminiscent of Arteta’s own. It’s worth remembering that when the Spaniard arrived at the Emirates, he had spent six years playing number 10 at Goodison Park before Arsene Wenger repurposed him in front of the defence.

But what Thomas does have is the physical attributes that Areta lacks. He’s tall, with good recovery pace and the strength to really excel in the Premier League. He is the complete midfielder and would be wasted just sitting in front of the back four.

How will we line up?

So, if he’s not going to sit in front of the back four then who will?

Before answering that I should say that I think Partey will end up on the right hand side of Arteta’s midfield three.

Then if Guardiola’s City are anything to go by the left side will be reserved for a more forward-thinking ‘free eight’. You may have noticed Bukayo Saka moving slightly further infield in the games against Sheffield United and West Ham, while it’s fair to assume that Willian was brought in with this plan in mind. Joe Willock and Emile Smith-Rowe may also be given minutes in this position. (This was covered by Dave here on Monday.)

That leaves one position at the base of our first-choice midfield. Until recently I would have assumed that spot would have been reserved for Granit Xhaka. The Swiss international has been an ever present in Arteta’s sides.


While I might not be quite aboard the Xhaka redemption train just yet, I do have to admit that he has done a pretty good job.

But the reality remains that he doesn’t deal well with pressure. Never was that more clear than when he was harassed for an hour by Liverpool’s insatiable midfield. It’s no coincidence that when Dani Ceballos was brought onto the pitch that we suddenly looked a much better side.

So, it’s Dani that I expect to start week-in week-out in front of our back four. Ceballos is much better on the ball and under pressure. If we genuinely want to control games like Arteta claims, then this is key.

Xhaka will be a fine squad player but with the quality of options now available to Arteta he should be nothing more than that. After just over four seasons of mediocrity in the middle of the park it’s time for Arsenal to finally move on from our erstwhile captain.

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10 Responses to Thomas’ arrival means Partey time is over for Granit Xhaka

  1. Francis Redemi October 7, 2020 at 3:30 pm #

    This is just an anti-Xhaka post.

    You seem to forget he has always played under all our managers so far.

    They see something in him and the season is so long that everyone would play.

    • ROTIMI October 7, 2020 at 4:28 pm #

      I don’t think it’s an anti-Xhaka post. He is only putting out to all of us the winning formula, and I totally agree with it. I don’t dispute that the season is long and as a result, everyone will play. However, the main members should be Dani, Partey, Saka/ Willi/ Xhaka. Dani is getting better everyday and no one in that team possesses his ball retention ability, which is key for an EPL miefield. Xhaka is good when given time on the ball, but his one-dimensional physique and slowness, is a big liability when playing against most teams in the league. When pressed from his front, he gets confused and the gives the safest pass or ‘mispass’, and when pressed from his back, he shields the ball and falls, because he can’t run. Accumulation of these minute details can win or lose you games. Hence, we need to move on from Xhaka. Even if we play 3-4-3, Partey and Dani should be preffered, because of the numerical disadvantage in the MF, meaning we need people who can progress the ball with speed and safety, all of which Xhaka won’t giive you.

      • Dave Seager October 7, 2020 at 5:09 pm #

        Correct it is certainly not and anti-Xhaka post and one fan’s opinion.

  2. sean vassallo October 7, 2020 at 3:44 pm #

    why do people like you have a platform for your drivel?

  3. Moody Adegbenro Adedoyin October 7, 2020 at 3:45 pm #

    While I agree with the thoughts of moving back to a midfield 3, taking Xhaka out of the mixisnt an option. He has been key in the way we play (though not perfect) that there’s no way he’ll be removed.
    A combination of Xhaka, Partey and maybe Cebalos will do

    • Kaya Kaynak October 8, 2020 at 11:03 am #

      I agree xhaka has brought a balance to the midfield that has been great to see since we switched to the back 3. That said though I don’t think you can really control games like arteta wants with a trio of midfielders who generally operate in a deeper lying role. That’s why I think we’ll see saka playing more centrally competing for a spot with willian. Partey obviously starts so it’s between ceballos and xhaka for that last spot when we switch to a midfield 3. For me dani is the better option.

  4. Sigh October 7, 2020 at 4:00 pm #

    What a shit article and waste of time. Your opinion on Xhaka is null and void Arteta loves him

    • Kaya Kaynak October 8, 2020 at 10:59 am #

      Hey thanks for reading! I think it’s important to remember that Arteta really values ruthlessness. Remember he was totally enamoured with Ozil when he first came and look how that turned out. I think it’s dangerous for a manager to get too close to any player.

  5. Blave October 8, 2020 at 4:51 am #

    Time will tell. Arteta and his predecessors have undeniably consistently turned to Xhaka. Was that out of preference or out of necessity given lack of a better alternative? By the way Kaya, is Partey “that one defensive midfielder” the team has been needing for so long?

    • Kaya Kaynak October 8, 2020 at 11:00 am #

      I think he could be that one defensive midfielder if we asked him to be, but it would be such a waste. He’s a real talent in the final third and his ball progression ability is fantastic. Not to mention hsi fantastic record with long shots.

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